James Lawton: Scolari's abrupt withdrawal exposes state of staggering disrepair at the FA

McClaren's position at Middlesbrough has recently been hazardous
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There weren't many certainties about the England regime that was supposed to replace the one of Sven Goran Eriksson - even before the world fell in, at least to all appearances, on the Football Association last night.

The desperate saga of the Eriksson years has plainly spread its confusions and betrayals into the intended new dawn of Luiz Felipe Scolari. His apparent withdrawal from the running has left the administration of England's international football in a state of staggering disrepair.

Scolari's statement that his situation - as the honoured and highly successful coach of Portugal - had been made untenable by the crazed urgency of the FA to come up with some sad representation of action and decision was, in all the circumstances, something that had to be taken on the glass chin that the Soho headquarters of English football have long presented without a semblance of defence.

Why, you had to ask all over again, has the Eriksson experience reduced decision-making to such a welter of foolishness?

Surely the imperatives were obvious enough when Eriksson stumbled into his last and utterly discrediting misadventure while supping champagne and eating lobster on the luxury yacht hired by an undercover newspaper team dressed as sheikhs. They had to make the best of a ludicrous and shaming situation.

If they had the stomach for it, they had to persevere with Eriksson through a World Cup. They had to give themselves time to gather themselves and at least attempt to make some sense of the future - and to avoid some of the worst mistakes.

Such a piece of pragmatism was blown to smithereens by the manic decision to reach out for an instant solution, a new man and a new future.

Things don't quite work out so easily in the rough hard world of modern football, where men of talent are properly tied to rigid contracts in the build-up to major tournaments.

The FA's idea that they could stage a series of interviews, sift through the credentials of half a dozen candidates, of whom only one - Scolari - plainly had the proper credentials to finally gather together the potential of what was supposed to be a golden generation of English football, was wishful thinking of the most risible kind.

The imperative, it seems so obvious to anyone with a working knowledge of how football operates, was to draw up a shortlist of men of true weight, with the experience to tackle one of the most demanding jobs in sport with true authority. Instead, the FA gave itself a deadline that was utterly optimistic and anyway carried no real weight or significance.

A man like Scolari, contracted to the end of the World Cup, made it clear that he had commitments that he intended to honour to the letter. He was not, as Eriksson had indicated on several gut-wrenching occasions, prepared to walk away at the first rustle of big money from wherever it came.

So, inevitably, when he saw the convulsion of media interest occurring in the capital of the proud football nation he led to the final of the European Championships two years ago, plainly he was plunged into an instant reassessment of the appeal of the England challenge.

Yes, the money on the table may have been stupendous - and yes, the chances of working with players of the quality of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard might have had much appeal for a globe-trotting football man of the highest success.

But that ambition has clearly been put in a deep freeze by what was plainly an invitation to a situation that could not be controlled - and, most clearly, not by the men of the Football Association, who were supposed to be in charge of the administration of the national game of his latest adopted country.

There will now be a rush to reassess the candidacies of the men who were rejected in the rush to sign up the World Cup-winning coach of Brazil four years ago, and possibly the greatest beneficiary will be Steve McClaren, who was a rock-hard betting favourite just two weeks ago, before the Arsenal vice-chairman and FA councillor David Dein led the advocacy for a proven winner. McClaren's position will no doubt be enhanced by the performance of his team, Middlesbrough, in reaching the finals of the Uefa Cup on the night that the Scolari mission undertaken by the FA's chief executive Brian Barwick was unravelling.

If this proves to be so, it is surely another nonsense. McClaren's position at Middlesbrough in recent months has been hazardous to say the least, a fact made public with chilling precision by Middlesbrough's senior player, Gareth Southgate, last weekend. McClaren, Eriksson's No 2 and someone caught up in the quarter-final defeat England suffered at the hands of Scolari when he was coaching Brazil in the 2002 World Cup and Portugal two years ago in the European Championships, was a broken runner before Middlesbrough rallied on Thursday night against an unheralded Romanian side, and Scolari decided against committing himself to a circus that showed little signs of reasonable organisation.

Now, McClaren's reinstatement as the favourite would create a wave of public cynicism - nearly 90 per cent voted against him in a recent BBC poll - and maybe provoke a new interest in Martin O'Neill, the Ulsterman who was seen by many as the most creditable of the home-grown candidates.

The truth is, though, the FA, ironically enough, had got it perfectly right when they finally decided to go for Scolari.

It was a decision that was mocked by the BBC pundit Gary Lineker when he talked of his grandmother's potential to reproduce Scolari's supreme achievement in winning the World Cup with Brazil. And there were predictable cries from such as Howard Wilkinson, chairman of the League Managers' Association, and Steve Bruce, the embattled manager of Birmingham City, that the English game and its coaching badge system had been betrayed.

However, to other witnesses, the feeling was that the FA, for all its bizarre scheduling, had finally come to its senses. Certainly, two of the team that won England's only World Cup, in 1966 - full-back George Cohen and forward Roger Hunt - both saw that it was a logical move, however sad the implication for English football's ability to produce men of the quality of their former boss, Sir Alf Ramsey, in the coaching role.

Cohen, dismayed by Eriksson's handling of the England team in the World Cup and European campaigns, and more specifically the playing of captain David Beckham and Michael Owen in the last World Cup at much less than full fitness, said that the FA finally had been bold and that he had no problem with Scolari. The Brazilian, Cohen said, had been successful and there was no doubt he would ruffle a few feathers in the dressing room, adding pointedly: "He is everything that Eriksson is not."

The implication of that bracing statement could hardly be missed. Scolari, it followed, has some of the vital quality of Cohen's own coach Ramsey, and Cohen added: "Alf was so English and so proud of being so that when he wrote us all letters of congratulations when the World Cup was won, it was easy to imagine him sitting at a desk draped in a Union Jack. But Alf could never have done it just with patriotism. Of course ideally you want a coach of England to be English, but there are other factors, and the reason we played to our absolute limit for Alf was that he had our respect. I think this is the potential of a Scolari in today's football."

Hunt said: "It's a long, long time since we won the World Cup, and I think it's important we live in the real world and not the one we would like to have. The game has changed so much. Look at our top clubs: none of them are run by an Englishman. That's sad, but it's something that can only be changed by some magnificent young manager coming along in English football and making his case."

Before last night's disaster, that was the reassurance coming from the heart of England's one World Cup-winning campaign. It suggested that, this side of Gary Lineker's grandmother, the FA had made the right choice. Unfortunately, they did it with too much desperation, too little an understanding of how football works in parts of the world where people know what they are doing.

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